Three score and six years ago, the greatest president of the 20th century gave one of his greatest speeches. On Jan. 11, 1944, in a State of the Union address that deserves to be ranked with Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" and King's "I Have a Dream" speech, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for recognition of a "Second Bill of Rights."
According to FDR:
"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights -- among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty. As our nation has grown in size and stature, however -- as our industrial economy expanded -- these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness."
"We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. 'Necessitous men are not free men.' People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all -- regardless of station, race, or creed."
President Roosevelt was not promoting economic rights that were necessarily enforceable in court, but rather economic benefits and opportunities that every American should expect to enjoy by virtue of citizenship in our democratic republic.
Many of the rights he identified have been secured by programs with bipartisan support. These include "the right to a good education" (the G.I. Bill, student loans, Pell Grants, Head Start, federal aid to K-12 schools) and "the right of every family to a decent home" (federally subsidized home loans and tax breaks for home ownership). But even before the global economic crisis, the U.S. fell short when it came to full employment -- "the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation" -- and a living wage -- "the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation."
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